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Police promise concerns of communities affected by gangs are being heard

Police presence in Packard Avenue. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Police presence in Packard Avenue. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Police have vowed to further engage with gang affected communities following calls for earlier intervention against young people being drawn in.

Superintendent Kerry Cutler speaking in Packard Avenue. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSuperintendent Kerry Cutler speaking in Packard Avenue. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Gang violence and knife crime were discussed at a public meeting following the fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in Packard Avenue last Saturday.

Superintendent Kerry Cutler said: “I heard people speak from the heart about the need for positivity around how we engage.

“It’s not just about agencies, but about everyone, and a lot of people were willing to put themselves forward and volunteer.

“Gang violence is not something unique to Suffolk – and it’s not something we’ve suddenly decided to do something about.”

Supt Cutler, whose team was given a remit to disrupt violence and disorder at the West Meadows site, added: “We’re doing a huge amount of work across Ipswich around disruption and how we work with other agencies to make the right referrals to divert people away from violence.

“This isn’t just about fixing a problem in the short term – and it’s not just about the police.

“At Monday’s meeting, people said we shouldn’t just be engaging with 16-year-olds, but talking to them at seven, eight and nine.

“I support that. If we don’t engage earlier, it’s not too late, but it becomes more difficult.

“Engagement should focus on people’s propensity to solve problems without violence.”

Supt Cutler said her team had made 39 recent arrests, executed drug warrants, visited addresses thought to be used for ‘cuckooing’ – dealers taking over the home of vulnerable people – and carried out ‘weapons sweeps’, leaflet drops and engagement surgeries.

While supporting early intervention, she promised gang members would meet justice.

“I’ve seen a lot of planning around ensuring they are brought before the courts,” she added.

“We have used antisocial behaviour orders to have some individuals banned from areas.

“We’ve worked with the Met on drug lines coming into the town and we’ve been really grateful for the response from the community.

“Their information can be the missing piece of a puzzle.

“It’s sometimes a tough thing to do, and they may feel frustrated by the perception that we are in one area and not the other.

“People might ask, rightly, what the police are doing. We’re doing a lot, but we need to continue listening to communities.”

Last August, the University of Suffolk published a study in response to an increase in gang and drug-related violence among young people in Ipswich.

The county council-commissioned research aimed to provide evidence and recommendations for a multi-agency gang strategy.

A 63-page document, by Dr Paul Andell and Prof John Pitts, identified two main Ipswich street gangs – known then as J-Block, based around Jubilee Park, and the Nacton or Q-Block gang, based around Queen’s Way.

Their emergence coincided with the arrival of metropolitan gang members intent on establishing local drug dealing networks across so-called ‘county lines’.

According to Dr Andell’s research, the gangs were managed by established local crime families and run by older adolescents, known as ‘elders’, aged 18-25, with ‘youngers’, aged 12 and up, used to deliver drugs.

“If you’re a young person living in relative deprivation, the rewards may seem attractive, but they’re often set up by their same side to lose drugs – leaving them indebted in a form of modern slavery,” he said.

“It can derive from the impacts of structure and agency – the agency of free-will, which can be limited by circumstances.

“Those factors act together negatively when someone is groomed to join a gang.

“It’s not just about economics. It’s about respect and the broader culture of celebrity.

“For some young people in relatively deprived areas, the gang offers a family.”

As part of the research, Youth Offending Team workers partly blamed the rise in gang related violence on a ‘perfect storm’ of cutbacks, a lack of employment opportunities, inappropriate housing for young people in care or released from custody, the emergence of local street gangs and inflammatory music videos.

Dr Andell likened the violent online videos to a “grotesque hall of mirrors, where the street scripts the screen and the screen scripts the street”.

The study recommended the establishment of a multi-agency steering group, including representation from the local authority, police, third sector and gang affected communities.

Dr Andell said: “There has to be a response within, and at the behest of the community.

“We have to reform ideas and challenge perceptions. The third sector and peer work are vital.”

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